It has been my privilege to participate in the training of biblical counselors for the past twenty years. Many students enthusiastically embrace biblical counseling theory in the classroom, but then have trouble when they practice counseling in fictitious role play scenarios and later when they attempt to work with actual counselees under the supervision of an experienced counselor (for example, an ACBC Fellow).
After having listened to hundreds of hours of counseling and having read or heard thousands of case session reports, I am convinced that many counselors have Bibles which are way too thin. They need thicker Bibles if they are to be effective biblical counselors. The “thickness” of one’s Bible describes how much of the Bible a counselor knows well enough to be able to use spontaneously in a counseling situation.
In some ways counseling is more difficult than preaching in that the preacher can prepare extensively for his sermon and can control the direction the sermon takes. The counselor may seek to prepare for a session but doesn’t have control over the direction the meeting may take. The counselee may raise a new issue or may be facing a sudden (and unrelated) crisis for which immediate help is required. The counselor must be able to offer answers from God’s Word, which means that he or she must know the Scriptures very well.
One of the most common ways in which beginning counselors fail is that they give answers which sound true and biblical, but they don’t actually quote Scripture. I remind those whom I am supervising that our authority does not rest in our position as counselors or our personal wisdom, but in God’s infallible Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It’s important for the counselee to read the Scriptures for himself or herself to see that God Himself speaks to their issue. If they don’t like what they are hearing they need to realize that their argument is not with the counselor, but with God.
God’s Word is powerful and life-transforming (Ps. 19:7-11). I vividly remember a meeting I had over thirty years ago with a nurse from Singapore who had questions about her faith. After spending nearly an hour giving my best explanations and illustrations of the truths about which she was asking, but getting nowhere, I finally had her read a section of Romans 3. Immediately after reading the text of Scripture her eyes were opened and she was able to clearly express the central gospel truths I had been trying to explain. Since then, when I am tempted to merely paraphrase a biblical truth to a counselee for the sake of time, I am reminded that it is worthwhile to have him or her turn to a passage and read it out loud.
How can you make your Bible thicker?
- Do whatever it takes during a counseling session to find appropriate texts of Scripture for your counselee to read. If you don’t know where to turn, then be willing to pause to look up a passage. Have tools at your disposal – a Bible program which allows you to look up passages, a book or notebook of Scripture references on particular topics – or you can simply google verses whose address you cannot remember.
- Do your homework. After a session in which you didn’t feel that your knowledge of Scripture was adequate, take time to search and study God’s Word so that you can be prepared for the next session with this counselee and future sessions with other counselees. You may find that what you learned through your failure in the session will be burned into your memory for life.
- Compile your own lists of favorite Bible texts to which you frequently refer. Many years ago I created a list of “Approximately 100 Go to Verses for Biblical Counseling” which I share with my students.
- Carefully study through books of the Bible so that you can expound passages in their context. My best preparation for counseling has been more than thirty years of preaching and teaching consecutively through books of the Bible. Biblical counselors who rely upon isolated proof texts have extremely thin Bibles and often fail to faithfully and thoroughly expound the scriptures in their context. For example, you may know that Ephesians 5:25 teaches husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church, but your explanation of that verse will be much richer if it is grounded in what Ephesians 1-3 teaches about Christ’s love for us and what chapter 4 teaches about walking in light of all that Christ has done for us.
- Understand how all of Scripture is connected to the gospel. The resurrected Christ showed His disciples how all of the Old Testament points to His Person and work (Luke 24:25-27). Can you connect every text you use to the central theme of Scripture which is redemption? While obedience to God’s Word is important, our counseling sessions should not be reduced to moralism and law keeping. Our failure to live up to God’s standards continually drives us back to Christ (Gal. 3:24). Our union with Christ enables us to live as new creatures who have been set free from slavery to sin and are united with the risen Christ (Romans 6:1ff).
We need biblical counselors whose sessions are Scripture-saturated and gospel-centered. Making our Bibles thicker is a lifelong endeavor.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” 2 Tim. 2:15
“Take pain with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” 1 Tim. 4:15-16
Jim Newheiser, DMin, is the director of the Christian Counseling Program and associate professor of Christian counseling at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC. He also serves as director of the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship and is a board member at both the Biblical Counseling Coalition and the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He is the author of Money: Seeking God’s Wisdom, the minibooks Financial Crisis and How to Love Difficult Parents, and numerous other books. Jim has been married to his wife, Caroline, for many years, and they have three grown children.